Updated Nov 29, 2018, 3:04:54 PM
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 29) — Three Caloocan police officers on Thursday were found guilty of murdering 17-year-old Kian delos Santos during an anti-drug operation.
Caloocan Regional Trial Court Branch 125 presiding Judge Rodolfo Azucena sentenced Police Officer (PO) 3 Arnel Oares, PO1 Jeremias Pereda, and PO1 Jerwin Cruz to 40-year imprisonment without parole. The suspects were also ordered to pay P345,000 in damages to Kian's family.
"The use of unnecessary or wanton violence is not justified when the fulfillment of their duty as law enforcers can be effected otherwise. A 'shoot first, think later' attitude can never be countenanced in a civilized society," the judge said.
The court ruled that the actions of the three police officers were "immediately cloaked with impunity" to ensure Kian will be killed because there was no opportunity for the minor to defend himself.
"Accused Pereda and Oares shot Kian while Cruz, a fellow police officer stood guard without any provocation from Kian and making it impossible for him to retaliate," it said.
However, the cops were found not guilty of planting illegal drugs and firearms on Kian. The case against police asset Renato "Nono" Loveras was archived "pending his apprehension." The court ordered the issuance of his arrest warrant.
Kian, a Grade 11 student, was found dead lying in a fetal position with gunshots to his head after a so-called "one-time, big-time" anti-illegal drugs operation by the Caloocan City police on August 16, 2017 — while Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa was still the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Related: Emotional Bato: 'Unfair' to say there is pattern in Kian, Carl, Mayor Espinosa slay
Police said the minor drew a firearm, which prompted them to fire back. However, accounts from witnesses and a closed-circuit television showed two men in civilian clothes dragging Kian across a basketball court. Two small sachets of suspected shabu, a .45 caliber gun and four fired cartridge cases were recovered at the scene of the encounter. Witnesses also claimed the Kian was told to run and was handed a gun.
The Caloocan policemen alleged Kian was a drug runner, but the teenager's family vehemently denied the allegation.
Kian's death sparked public outrage and cast doubt on the government's controversial war on drugs. Amid criticisms, Duterte defended the PNP, saying it's an "insult" to say they have a policy to kill.
Related: Duterte vows to jail cops if found guilty in minor's slay
'Impunity is not forever'
This guilty verdict marks the first conviction under President Rodrigo Duterte's unrelenting war against illegal drugs. His administration's drug war has left more than 4,900 killed in various police operations. Human rights groups peg the number to go way beyond 12,000.
The parents of Kian welcomed the verdict of the court. His mother, Lorenza, said she hopes the conviction sends a chilling warning to state forces involved in extrajudicial killings.
"Pwede pong matakot sila dahil ito na ang nagpapatunay na maaari po silang makulong habang buhay kung hindi nila ititigil 'yung mga hindi nila magagandang gawain," she said minutes after the verdict was handed down.
[Translation: This conviction could scare them because this is proof they can be jailed for life if they continue these unacceptable acts.]
Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes said the guilty verdict is another against impunity.
"Impunity is not forever. There will come a time that justice will catch up, one way or another, with abusive officials," he said in a statement.
Senator Risa Hontiveros lauded the verdict, she said there are more convictions yet to be made to expose Duterte's alleged policy to kill.
"The President cannot wash his hands of these killings any longer. He has smeared the image of the police force. He incited this culture of killing and impunity. He can no longer deny responsibility for inflicting death and violence while he has clearly and repeatedly encouraged them," she said.
Despite the verdict, PNP said the drug war is still far from over.
"This will not cause us to waiver a bit in our resolve to rid this society of the menace of illegal drugs. We will be equally resolute in standing behind our front line personnel toiling in this war while fully upholding the constitutional rights of everyone," PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde said.
CNN Philippines' justice correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.